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Study: Poorer suburbs under-represented in councils, get worse services

Schools are more likely to be closed in neighbourhoods that lack a councillor.

Ilmakuva Kuhmoisten keskustasta talvella.
Researchers used school closures to probe whether councillors' residence location had an impact on allocation of resources. Image: Petri Aaltonen / Yle

Finnish councils are dominated by politicians from better-off neighbourhoods, and their decisions mean services are worse in less wealthy districts.

Those are the findings of a new study, Love Thy (Elected) Neighbor? Residential Segregation, Political Representation and Local Public Goods, from the VATT Institute for Economic Research, which was published on Friday.

In Helsinki, some two-thirds of councillors come from the wealthier central neighbourhoods.

"The under-representation is likely due to the combination of lower turnout in poorer neighbourhoods and the tendency of voters to vote for local candidates despite the fact that elections are held at-large. This incentivises politicians to cater to the voters in their own neighbourhoods," said researcher Tuukka Saarimaa in a press release.

Voters in municipal elections can choose candidates from party lists covering the whole city, with places allocated proportionally to each list.

School closures hit poorer neighbourhoods

The VATT researchers examined data covering three local municipal government terms from 2005 to 2017, looking at the home address of successful candidates and decisions taken during that period to close elementary schools.

During the period covered by the study, Finland's network of elementary schools contracted by more than a quarter. This was due to demographic change, but it necessitated tough decisions on which neighbourhoods would lose out.

The researchers found that areas without a councillor resident were twice as likely to lose their elementary school, and that once a school closed, richer residents tended to move away from those neighbourhoods.

"Taken together, these findings show that residential sorting leads to inequality both in political representation and the distribution of public goods across neighbourhoods, which may further reinforce residential segregation," said Senior Researcher Oskari Harjunen.

Finland has local elections in 2021, and Yle News will be interviewing all the main party leaders.

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